Steelers defense finally makes some plays, forces turnovers
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At last, the Steelers' defense didn't look confused or weary after the first quarter. It didn't get pushed around like a blocking sled.
The Steelers fed off the energetic play of linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley to overpower the New York Jets' offensive line and turn up the heat on former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.
The Steelers blanketed the rookie quarterback's receivers throughout. They forced him to retreat in the pocket and pressured him into bad decisions and poor throws to finally record their first turnovers of the season Sunday en route to a 19-6 victory at MetLife Stadium.
“We wanted to make (Smith) uncomfortable by getting pressure on him,” said Timmons, whose fourth-quarter interception cemented the Steelers' first win. “We tried to hit him as many times as we could, but it was huge to jam their receivers and throw their timing off. I think he was rattled at the end.
“Once we started getting hits on him, he started throwing the ball a different way. He wasn't following through as much when he was getting hit.”
The Steelers hit Smith 11 times behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks.
“We did what we were supposed to do, like getting off the field on third down,” said Woodley, who had a sack and two quarterback pressures. “We didn't give up any big plays, and we forced them to do some things they didn't want to with our pressure.”
Smith was pressured from every angle. The Steelers blitzed linebackers and safeties, and the defensive front collapsed the pocket to leave a frustrated Smith exposed on obvious passing downs.
The Steelers, ranked No. 1 in total defense the past two seasons, didn't wait for the offense to make something happen. It got after Smith early when the offense put its back against the wall with consecutive three-and-outs in the first quarter. But the Jets wasted good field position in the first half and trailed 9-6 at halftime because the defense stiffened in the red zone.
“There was pressure everywhere,” Timmons said. “When we apply pressure, the secondary makes plays. We had opportunities in the games we lost, but today we took advantage of them.”
The Steelers had gone 18 quarters without forcing a turnover until safety Ryan Clark turned back the Jets with an interception at the Steelers' 1-yard line early in the third quarter. That prevented New York from closing the gap after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders for a 55-yard touchdown and a 16-6 advantage just 1:31 into the third quarter.
“I'm not sure that I'm more excited we got it (interception) and helped us win the game or that you guys (media) can stop asking about it,” said Clark, who also dropped what should have been his second interception.
The Jets' running game had overpowered opponents in the second half in winning two of the last three. The Jets rushed for 62 yards in the first half Sunday but were held to 21 in the second.
“Our whole mindset was to be real physical,” Timmons said.
“I don't even know the last time we played this well,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We knew we could make it difficult for them if we played our game.
“Everyone gets caught up in interceptions and sacks, but coach (Dick) LeBeau always talks about tackling the catch. It's a hidden stat. It's hard to hold a team under 200 yards passing. It's hard to hold a team under 80 yards rushing because those boys on the other side have goals of their own.”
The Steelers came within four yards of reaching every statistical goal. Smith passed for 201 yards, and the Jets rushed for 83, but the sacks and turnovers impacted the outcome.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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